January 4, 2013 in Sports

Cougars try out improved defense on Huskies

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Washington State guards Royce Woolridge, left, and Mike Ladd, right, harass Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso.
(Full-size photo)

PULLMAN – Ken Bone doesn’t necessarily dismiss the numbers. But Washington State’s coach knows better than to draw sweeping conclusions based on wins over Big Sky and Southwestern Athletic Conference teams.

So while the stats say the Cougars are playing pretty darn well defensively, Bone wants to wait before declaring his team a defensive juggernaut, even though WSU enters its Pac-12 opener against Washington Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPNU) as the conference’s leader in scoring defense.

“A lot of that is determined on who we’ve played,” Bone said. “And I think really I’ll be able to answer that question a lot better in a couple weeks. I think we’ve done some good things and I like our guys’ attention to detail on the defensive end. But we have room to improve, no doubt about it.”

In years past, a game against Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies would have meant a stiff challenge for WSU’s defense.

This season? Stiffer than Jackson State or Buffalo, sure. But this isn’t a traditional Romar team. Washington ranks just eighth in the conference in scoring offense at 70.9 points per game and ninth in field-goal percentage at 44.6, and is coming off a 29.7 percent shooting performance in a loss to Connecticut a week ago.

The Huskies (8-5) are also transitioning into a new, high-post offense, culled by Romar from his experience coaching under Jim Harrick at UCLA in the mid-’90s.

No, this is not a typical Washington team, its complexion changed by the departures of high-scoring guards Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross. But Bone, a former assistant under Romar, still sees a dangerous squad.

“They have a lot of counters for their shooters,” Bone said. “It’s not just get the ball to the high post, duck in on the weak side. They’re good in that area but they’re also utilizing their shooters extremely well and they’re finding opportunities to penetrate. It’s a high post offense, but it’s a little more stagnant than their motion game. But they’re not just slowing it down, either. They’re executing well.”

The Cougars (9-4) have executed better than most Pac-12 teams defensively, and today’s game might provide a glimpse at just how much they’ve improved from last season.

At the 13-game mark in 2011-12, WSU had allowed 60.3 points per game against similar competition. The Cougars have held opponents to 55.2 points per game this season – best in the league – allowing 50 or fewer points on six different occasions.

“I just think we know as a team we’re not as talented as we’ve been in the past,” said sophomore guard DaVonte Lacy, “but we can still be as successful, if not more successful, because we do different things like play defense and rebound, stuff like that.”

“I think it might just be our mind-set,” said senior forward Brock Motum. “All the guys are buying into the defensive philosophy and everyone likes playing defense. When we get consecutive stops, and I think if we can keep improving on that, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.

UW guard C.J. Wilcox will be the Cougars’ primary concern tonight. Wilcox, termed by Bone as “a prolific shooter,” leads the Huskies with 18.5 points per game and scores more than 42 percent of his points from beyond the 3-point arc.

The junior guard made just 2 of 12 field-goal attempts against UConn.

“There’s not many times where C.J. Wilcox goes more than one game without shooting it well,” Bone said. “So we are well aware of who he is and we need to know where he’s at at all times and try to get a hand up on him.”

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